The Studio – Jewelry Blog by Rio Grande

Tech Support Team’s Top 5 Tools and Techniques of 2010!

Dec 30, 2010
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Yvonne M. Padilla

Here in Tech Support one of our most interesting, fun, and challenging tasks is to evaluate and review new tools and equipment. But we don't just review tools, we're also constantly searching for new and innovative techniques that we can share with fellow jewelers. This past year we had the pleasure of testing dozens of new items and taking classes that expanded our jewelry universe. Between the testing and classes, a few tools and techniques struck us as being so cool that we want to sing about them from the mountaintop.

Here it is folks: The Top 5 Tools and Techniques of 2010, straight from Rio's Tech Support team! Which of them strikes you?

#5
CAST/T Compact Centrifugal Casting System

This is one of the best casting machines we’ve seen in a long time. It’s compact, affordable and a cinch to use. When we set it up, we noticed that it’s about the size of a small coffee maker, which is great if you're short on space. How can such a small machine cast a ring? Much less, a dozen at a time? Well it does, and with such ease! It’s also super-easy to operate.

Phil, our casting class instructor, cast some random ring patterns with lots of prongs and complex galleries and the CAST/T performed flawlessly. Every detail came out - no missing prongs! We were also impressed by how safe it is to use. The machine is totally enclosed so that molten metal cannot escape. A great feature that keeps everyone in the studio safe! It will cast gold, silver, and yes, even platinum.

#4
Teflon® Roller for Metal Clay

It surprises me that this simple tool hasn’t appeared on the scene before now! If you’ve ever worked with metal clay, you know how it can stick to your rolling pin. These rollers are made of Teflon®, eliminating the need for any kind of oil or release. Plus, we really like the weight of it; you don’t have to use much downward pressure when you're rolling the clay. You can let the roller do the work for you.

#3
Fusing Argentium® Silver

This is such a cool new process that we just had to include it in the list. Fusing Argentium® Silver is one of the most fascinating silver processes to come along in decades. Granted, fusing has been around for eons and isn’t exactly new. However, it’s now easier to do with sterling silver than it has ever been. We can’t give enough praise to the pioneering work of Ronda Coryell, who has really perfected this process.

The alloy composition of Argentium allows it to fuse not only with itself but with many other metals too. And it’s so easy to do! Simply lay one metal over another, add a little My –T- Flux and heat until it’s fused. After watching the fusing videos by Ronda, our teammate Mark Nelson has cut out over 50% of his soldering. He says, “This saves time in construction and finishing (no more solder to clean up) and allows me to create more complex pieces.”

#2
Orion 150i Pulse Arc Welder

First off, this is a cool-looking machine! For that reason alone we immediately wanted to play with it. It features a touch-screen control with a visual scale to indicate the power settings. Cool feature number one - check! Most jewelers are visual artists, so we use intuitive visual cues when soldering. With Orion's nifty touch-screen, the visual cue is right in front of us!

Cool feature number two is the fact that it can be swung out of place when you’re not using it. When you’re ready to weld, just swing it over and begin! Cool feature number three is that it's both a resistance and pulse-arc welder all in one. This means you can use the resistance welding to tack pieces together, or in the pulse-arc mode you can vary the energy range, which gives precise control. Needless to say, we are all longing to have the sample back in Tech Support, so we can play with it some more!

And now, ladies and gentlemen, Technical Support’s #1 favorite tool of 2010 is…(drum roll please)…

#1
Knew Concept Hand Saws

London goldsmith James Miller used the Knew Saw to create this exquisite piece

When we first saw the prototype for these saws, we were all in a tizzy! We said things like “check out how cool it looks” and “wow, it’s so light!” And then we used it, and all we could say was “wow.” Really, that was the only word we could utter. This saw frame is so jaw-droppingly gorgeous and easy to use. It’s so light, that you can sit and use it at your bench for hours without feeling the fatigue that comes from using traditional saw frames. And the tension system eliminates all the work of getting the perfect tension in your blades. Perfectly tightened blades will give you a smoother, straighter cut and fewer broken saw blades. This means less finishing, saving you time and money. As my teammate Sessin said, “It makes sawing fun and new again.”

That wraps it up for our 2010 picks! We're eagerly waiting to see what next year brings us.

From the entire Tech Team and everyone at Rio Grande, we wish you a happy and safe 2011!

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Hobo Nickel

Dec 29, 2010
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Sam Alfano
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The hobo nickel, a unique American folk-art form, gets its name from Depression-era hobos, who used a pocket knife to alter the image on Indian-head nickels. Often the Indian was altered to depict a bearded hobo wearing a derby, but religious and political figures, animals, celebrities, and so on, were also favorite subjects. These miniature art works were often traded for food or lodging…

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Bonny Doon Tools for your Hydraulic Press!

Dec 27, 2010
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Spencer Baum
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We were thrilled when Phil Poirier bought Bonny Doon Engineering in 2006, not only because his career as both a jeweler and a tool-maker made him the perfect person to take over Bonny Doon, but also because his workshop is in Taos, New Mexico, just a few hours north of us. We’ve made a habit of dropping in on his facility every once in awhile, and we try to bring a video camera with us, when we go.

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Happy Birthday to Me: Celebrating with a New Caldera Kiln!

Dec 23, 2010
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Yvonne M. Padilla

This past August, as my birthday crept closer and closer, I found that I just couldn’t make up my mind. I didn’t NEED anything new, but I really WANTED something new. Shall I get a new disc cutter? There’s a design stamp set that I’ve been eyeing for a while …and then there’s that kiln that I can’t stop thinking about…

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Spectacular Morning in Albuquerque!

Dec 22, 2010
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Molly Therese Bell

Yesterday’s sunrise here in Albuquerque blew our socks off! So much, in fact, that several Rio Grande associates were moved to take pictures of the magnificent show and share them with all of us at the company.

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Ross’ Rio Expeditions: Appreciating the Beauty and Wonder of New Mexico

Dec 20, 2010
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Michael Ross
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Our guest contributor this week is Mike Ross. Mike has been the safety coach at Rio Grande for many years and, in his free time, he leads an enviable life of excitement and adventure. Each weekend, he and his wife embark upon adventures that take full advantage of the natural beauty and wonder of New Mexico. Most Mondays, he sends an email to all of us at Rio in which he describes his adventures and shares his breathtaking pictures.

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Once Upon a Time—Eva Martin Designs a Story into Every Jewelry Piece She Makes

Dec 16, 2010
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Shelby Chant
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Eva Martin is a storyteller. But rather than using words on a page, she embeds them in her jewelry designs.

She gets to know her clients very well, through emails and conversations. And she gets to the heart of their stories to design pieces that will come to life with such deliberate meaning. “I find this storytelling one of the most exciting and satisfying parts my job,” she says…

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Ruby: Red Alert for Bench Jewelers!

Dec 15, 2010
2 Comments
Antoinette Matlins

What’s happening is that most of the low-quality, inexpensive rubies now being sold in the market are not just “treated rubies” but something altogether different–a mixture of low-quality corundum infused with lead-glass. The amount of lead-glass present in the stones now in the marketplace often exceeds 25% and, in many cases represents 40% or more of the entire stone!

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New Super Cool Delrin® Tool

Dec 13, 2010
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Spencer Baum
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Delrin is a material that’s hard enough for heavy forming, but also has just a tiny amount of give, which makes it less likely to crack than other hard plastics like PVC.
Last year I asked Mark and Sessin from our Tech team to recommend some new Delrin metalsmithing products for us to pursue, based on what they were hearing on the phone from our customers. They brought in a collection of their favorite homemade wooden swage blocks and said, “Make this in Delrin.”…

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BAM! Silver Prices Again!

Dec 8, 2010
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Kevin Whitmore
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“BAM!” is what Emeril the chef says on his cooking show. And “BAM!” is what I felt when I saw the price of silver top the $30 mark on Monday. Lately, listening to the news has seemed surreal. The Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, has been quoted about “fears of deflation”. Yet here is $30 silver, where just a couple months ago it was half that price. What is a jeweler supposed to do?

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